What is the future of service robots?

Jon Lawson

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) forecasts that sales of service robots will grow between 20 and 25% by 2020. Having already significantly impacted the agriculture, surgery and logistics sectors, service robots are expected to offer greater assistive capability and value in the future. Here, Michele Windsor of battery manufacturer Ultralife explains why the future of service robots will need extra power.

The International Organisation for Standardisation defines a service robot as, “a robot that performs useful tasks for humans or equipment, excluding industrial automation applications.” It’s predicted that these types of robots will play a greater role in the maintenance, security and rescue markets, but interestingly, the latest sector to embrace automation and robotics is tourism.

Italy’s first robot concierge, Robby Pepper, has been employed to answer the frequent questions from the guests at a popular hotel resort. Programmed to understand and respond in Italian, English and German, Robby has been taught the locations of spas, restaurants and opening times to relieve overwhelmed staff during the summer tourist season.

This is just one example of how the rise of artificial intelligence and robotics is being utilised to improve the services offered across sectors.

Specialist robots like Robby are often required to be autonomous and free from an alternating current (AC) supply. Original equipment manufacturers therefore integrate portable batteries into their designs to power service robots.

The problem is that as manufacturers create more intuitive robots, the power demands for these devices become significantly greater and often beyond the capability of many existing power sources.

At Ultralife, we understand that being able to reliably power a robotic system is important to avoid the financial burden of unexpected downtime, reprogramming and maintenance. This is why we created the range of primary, non-rechargeable, Lithium Thionyl Chloride and Lithium Manganese Dioxide cells and batteries.

These batteries can be integrated by OEMs and design engineers as backup batteries into service robot applications to ensure safe operation. Users also have the added benefit of the batteries featuring Ultralife’s Smart Circuit technology. This smart functionality provides users with critical information including cycle count, remaining run-time and remaining capacity, for added safety.

Robots like Robby, for example, are programmed to learn and improve their knowledge while in operation. Depending on the memory storage feature installed in the device, loss of power could impact the robot’s development. If the robot uses flash memory settings for example, then any information Robby stored could be forgotten because of losing power.

Unlike industrial robots, service robots are at work in a wide range of environments and everyday life applications. Often using more advanced technology, service robots face distinct power requirements as a result. So, having a backup power source is essential to help businesses avoid frequent reteaching or reprogramming any critical or previously learned information.

With the IFR expecting to see a substantial increase in the use of service robots across industry, OEMs and design engineers must consider the power source that’s going to operate their application. Robby may be the first Italian robot concierge but, providing every service robot can be reliably powered and reduce the pressure of medial tasks during busy periods, it is very unlikely he will be the last.